(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)


Fresco, 360 x 390 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

On entering the Chapel (generally through the east door, for contrary to prevalent custom the altar with the 'Last Judgment' occupies the west wall), one can see the Prophet Zechariah enthroned above. In ecclesiastical tradition Zechariah is young, but Michelangelo painted him as a man hoary with age, with a long beard and an ample green cloak, perhaps indicative of the unfathomable depth of his prophecies. This may be the earliest figure; it is extremely powerful but still somewhat clumsy, hardly suggesting a being who has received illumination. The old man is reading from his book, perhaps reciting the passages on the reconstruction of the temple, which he advocated.

Some scholars thought that Julius II and his counselors took it as a reference to the rebuilding of Saint Peter's. Zechariah prophesied the coming of a king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, that is, Palm Sunday; and the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Pentecost - both of which played a prominent part in the Church ritual of the Vatican. A crest with the oak of the della Rovere is placed on the console of Zechariah. Twin genii peer over the shoulder of the Prophet with the book.

Zechariah was one of the twelve 'lesser' prophets. Michelangelo chose two more, Joel and Jonah, from among them, in addition to the four major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. The remaining thrones are occupied by five of the twelve traditional Sibyls.